Chapter Seventy Two
He didn’t like that, this old man whose name I still did not know. “You are very quick to judge.”
“I made the same excuses for Mirzaq as you did.” It was the first time I’d ever admitted it out loud. “I tried to come up with ways to justify his behaviour, to pity and condone what he did to me. I wanted to pretend that he was good, just misled. I couldn’t face the truth – that I’d chosen a bad man. That I had willingly walked into the trap he laid for me.”
There was no response. And so I continued, purging the words like I was spitting out poison. Perhaps, in a way, I was. For every word I spoke, the spectre of my dead, departed husband seemed to fade, growing insubstantial.
“I cast myself as the bad guy. I took the blame, found flaws within myself that I used as motivation for what he did. When I couldn’t point to something specific, it was easy enough to look at the mountain of my flaws and pardon him still, to convince myself that I should count my blessings for his mercy in continuing to stay with me despite them.
“I twisted myself in knots to find him a way out of his actions. Even when he stopped bothering to make the effort to apologize, when all those pretty, charming graces that he’d used to snare me had evaporated into the air, I still found a way to cast him as the benevolent, suffering martyr just for keeping me.”
I looked him straight in the eyes. Those very same eyes had enchanted me before. It was gratifying to know that they had no effect now. “I’m sure you were told – I left him before he died. Do you want to know what changed?”
A tiny nod.
“Nothing!” I laughed bitterly. “The day I left, I went with the illusion still intact in my mind. I hated myself for going but I somehow convinced myself that I was toxic and that by leaving, I would free him from the unpleasantness I was secreting.
“I thought I was saving him from me. Even then, when I was more miserable than I have ever been, I still looked for the problem within myself. Mirzaq was untouchable – if my mind ever whispered to me otherwise, I would be consumed with guilt and it would only feed that certainty; that I was selfish, spiteful and spineless.”
“Enough,” the old man breathed, holding up a frail, trembling hand.
I ignored him, too far gone to stop even if I had wanted to. The dam had broken and there was no stopping what was pouring out.
“I was spared from ever seeing the worst of your grandson while he was still alive,” I told those grey eyes. “It was only long after he was cold in the ground that she managed to tell me the truth. I suspected they were having an affair. I didn’t mind it even; I knew I wasn’t his equal and I thought he deserved to find better than me. If I’d ever known, ever even suspected that he was forcing himself on her…”
The old man let out an inarticulate noise – rage or indignation, I didn’t know. I raised my voice, speaking over him. “If I had known what was happening right in front of me, I think I would have killed him myself.”
“You’re lying,” the old man breathed, his skin turning ashy.
But we both knew I had no reason to lie.
“I lied for him constantly while he was alive. I will not do it again.” I stood there, concentrating solely on the act of breathing for a few long, drawn out seconds.
Horror and sorrow had twisted the old man’s face and as I watched, he opened and closed his mouth, seemingly at a loss for words. “I did not see any of this. He was not this. He was so bright, so lovely. He was the most beautiful baby.”
“I don’t think anyone ever taught him to think of people as anything but tools,” I carefully kept my voice clear of blame. That little bit of compassion I could spare.
“You need to leave now.” Strength had come back into that voice. “I have heard enough.”
I didn’t move. “What about my daughter?”
“Keep her. You will not have any problems from us. I will ensure it.”
I believed him. Still, I didn’t move. I wouldn’t stake my daughter’s life on my instincts alone. Not when there was more I could do.
“You will receive paperwork confirming it, if that will make you feel better.”
“Thank you. And,” I hesitated. “I’m sorry. For your loss.”
Not for the man that he had been but for the possibility of the man he could have been, had things been different. The man who’d never truly existed save for as a mask that had been used perhaps to fool us both, not just me.
I did not wait for a reply. I had already outstayed my welcome.
Zaakir was beyond frantic. His dark hair stood straight up in clumps as though he’d been tugging on it roughly and he was twisting his long fingers constantly as he stared fixedly at the entrance to the giant auditing company I’d disappeared into.
He dove into the swarm of pedestrians before I could sign to him to wait, that I would come to him, and so I stood as patiently as I could at the foot of the large staircase.
His large hand closed around mine moments later and I smiled involuntarily.
“So?” he asked urgently, scanning every inch of me that he could see as though expecting answers to be written on my skin.
“I think we’re safe.” It felt like tempting fate to say the words aloud but I relished the feel of them in my mouth all the same.
Zaakir threw his arms around me, murmuring prayers of gratitude under his breath as his shoulders slumped with relief.